The Mystery of Edwin Drood
ACCEPTING the Jackass as the type of self-sufficient stupidity and conceit - a custom,
perhaps, like some few other customs, more conventional than fair - then the purest
jackass in Cloisterham is Mr. Thomas Sapsea, Auctioneer.
Mr. Sapsea 'dresses at' the Dean; has been bowed to for the Dean, in mistake; has even
been spoken to in the street as My Lord, under the impression that he was the Bishop
come down unexpectedly, without his chaplain. Mr. Sapsea is very proud of this, and of
his voice, and of his style. He has even (in selling landed property) tried the experiment
of slightly intoning in his pulpit, to make himself more like what he takes to be the
genuine ecclesiastical article. So, in ending a Sale by Public Auction, Mr. Sapsea finishes
off with an air of bestowing a benediction on the assembled brokers, which leaves the
real Dean - a modest and worthy gentleman - far behind.
Mr. Sapsea has many admirers; indeed, the proposition is carried by a large local
majority, even including non-believers in his wisdom, that he is a credit to Cloisterham.
He possesses the great qualities of being portentous and dull, and of having a roll in his
speech, and another roll in his gait; not to mention a certain gravely flowing action with
his hands, as if he were presently going to Confirm the individual with whom he holds
discourse. Much nearer sixty years of age than fifty, with a flowing outline of stomach,
and horizontal creases in his waistcoat; reputed to be rich; voting at elections in the
strictly respectable interest; morally satisfied that nothing but he himself has grown since
he was a baby; how can dunder-headed Mr. Sapsea be otherwise than a credit to
Cloisterham, and society?
Mr. Sapsea's premises are in the High-street, over against the Nuns' House. They are of
about the period of the Nuns' House, irregularly modernised here and there, as steadily
deteriorating generations found, more and more, that they preferred air and light to Fever
and the Plague. Over the doorway is a wooden effigy, about half life-size, representing
Mr. Sapsea's father, in a curly wig and toga, in the act of selling. The chastity of the idea,
and the natural appearance of the little finger, hammer, and pulpit, have been much
Mr. Sapsea sits in his dull ground-floor sitting-room, giving first on his paved back yard;
and then on his railed-off garden. Mr. Sapsea has a bottle of port wine on a table before
the fire - the fire is an early luxury, but pleasant on the cool, chilly autumn evening - and
is characteristically attended by his portrait, his eight-day clock, and his weather-glass.
Characteristically, because he would uphold himself against mankind, his weather-glass
against weather, and his clock against time.
By Mr. Sapsea's side on the table are a writing-desk and writing materials. Glancing at a
scrap of manuscript, Mr. Sapsea reads it to himself with a lofty air, and then, slowly
pacing the room with his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat, repeats it from